updated 29 Dec 2011, 14:40
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Singapore ranks near bottom for women in boardroom
by Siow Li Sen

India, Italy and Singapore are way behind when it comes to getting women into the boardroom, according to a Deloitte report.

Of the 17 countries surveyed, the US was in pole position with 15.7 per cent women making up the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

But the bottom three saw less than half of those statistics. According to Deloitte, Singapore women make up 6.4 per cent of directors in a sample of the 100 largest domestic companies by market capitalisation; Italian women make up 6.2 per cent in a sample of 42,000 directors; and Indian women comprise a mere 4.7 per cent on a sample of the 100 largest domestic companies by market capitalisation.

"Extensive research has suggested correlation between the financial bottom line and the proportion of women on boards or in senior management," said Jane Diplock, a Singapore Exchange director, in the Women in the boardroom: A global perspective report released yesterday.

"(Gender balance) is increasingly being recognised as a badge of good governance and therefore desirable. Investors should demand it."

Economies profiled in the report were Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and United Kingdom.

Deloitte also looked at the legislative efforts being pursued across the 17 countries to encourage more women to serve on listed company boards.

Corporate governance activists say that legislative action is difficult and polarising, but companies seem to respond to a target with a fixed date for compliance.

"The question of targets versus quotas is a very difficult one. Anecdotally, it has been suggested that the call to action in Australia has been energised by an implied threat of quotas, and business has responded," said Ms Diplock in a forward to the Deloitte report.

Ms Diplock said that quotas should not be the first choice but if the current cohort of business leaders continue to put their heads in the sand and ignore the issue, some intervention in the interests of shareholders and other stakeholders may well be necessary.

Singapore, for one, has not mandated a quota, and the proposed changes to the Code of Corporate Governance barely touches on the gender makeup of boards here.

"The board and its board committees should comprise directors who as a group provide an appropriate balance and diversity of skills, experience, gender and knowledge of the company," it said.

But this nevertheless represents an improvement over the current Code that does not mention gender as a desirable quality or background to board candidates, said Deloitte.

Still, another activist highlighted that the broader issue is not about gender politics but rather about what will lead to better board decisions.

"There is no hiding that men and women, even with similar educational backgrounds, often differ in their perspectives. The female perspective is neither necessarily better nor more insightful, but different," said Liselott Kilaas, managing director of Aleris AS in Norway and Denmark.

"Ultimately, board diversity is about combining alternative and complementary views that in the end lead to better board decisions."

This article was first published in The Business Times.


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